The Dragon Quest franchise, for as intense and emotional as some of its outings can become, is usually reliable comfort food. You tend to have a general idea of what you’re getting into, whether you’re playing a mainline or spinoff title. However, a series I never invested myself in was Dragon Quest Monsters, where players capture and grow monsters for battles.
With the announcement of Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince and further details pointing to a connection with Dragon Quest IV. I was eager to learn if this was the series for me. I feel like Square Enix understood the assignment, as they’ve released a demo to highlight this series’ charm.
Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince follows the demihuman protagonist, Psaro, who was cursed by his father, the ruler of the monster realm of Nadiria. This makes him unable to harm any being with monster blood coursing through their veins. In the beginning moments of the demo, the village Psaro resides in is attacked, eventually resulting in him becoming a monster wrangler. He intends to utilize this ability to enact vengeance against his father, so we can likely expect a darker tale this time around.
The demo wastes no time introducing the cast and gameplay mechanics, which takes center stage. What became immediately evident when learning the ins and outs of monster wrangling is how lenient the process is. In battle, monsters can join your party if you successfully Scout them or by chance if you defeat them. Scouting was typically successful with little effort, which leaves me somewhat concerned about its ease in the final game. Of course, this demo comprises the early hours, so it could not be representative of later hours, and it’s really just luck when it comes down to it, but just some food for thought.
At the very least, the ease of monster acquisition makes progression less of a timesink, especially for completionists. I was delighted to see a speed-up option for battle and the Zoom spell, which enables highly convenient fast travel to previously visited locations. The most evident point I came to while playing was how approachable the whole experience felt, so even if you’re intimidated by the idea of recruiting tons of monsters, you really don’t have anything to worry about.
Plus, you can have up to eight monsters in your party at a given time, with them divided into the front and back rows. Everyone here gains experience after fights conclude, too, so you can level plenty of your allies in little time. I was also impressed by the sheer number of monsters you can recruit in these opening moments, especially when diving into each of their individual diverse skill trees that will likely make everyone’s playthroughs unique. Variety is the name of the game here, and Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince is not afraid to give you a bunch of elements to experiment with right out of the box.
However, I must emphasize the one major flaw I had with this demo: the framerate. The fields you explore are noticeably full of frame drops, which felt more evident when playing while the Switch was docked. I’m sincerely hoping that the performance stability is polished before release because exploration feels significantly hampered as it is right now. There are some compelling ideas here, like the swapping of seasons opening up new pathways and giving access to new types of monsters, but the way those facets are presented needs to be smoother to be more effective.
Dragon Quest Monsters: The Dark Prince is proving to be a competent turn-based adventure that’s approachable to players of all skill levels. With a more grim motivation and context, this could be a standout release that puts the Monsters spinoff series on more gamers’ radars. Still, the framerate definitely needs to be ironed out for stability’s stake, and the challenge level needs to grow for the experience as a whole to leave a more lasting impression. Here’s hoping the full release in a few months can remedy these faults.
Dragon Quest Monsters The Dark Prince will launch for Nintendo Switch on December 1, 2023.
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